Last Wednesday, Overstock.com (NASDAQ: OSTK) CEO Patrick Byrne was arrested after Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers found a loaded pistol concealed in his carry-on bag at an airport security checkpoint. He spent several hours in Salt Lake County jail before being released on bail. The company made no disclosure to investors, and news of Byrne's arrest was only disclosed on Friday in a TSA announcement.
|Patrick Byrne Mug Shot|
Did Overstock President Jonathan Johnson tell the truth in press statements issued shortly after the incident, and in light of Byrne's present and past behavior, is it appropriate for him to be allowed to carry a concealed firearm under Utah law? In the wake of the Newtown school massacre last month, more attention has focused on access to guns by mentally unbalanced people.
Excuses don’t add up
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Overstock.com President Jonathan Johnson claimed that it was all a mistake:
"He has told me he regrets and apologizes for the incident," Johnson said. Byrne is a longtime concealed carry permit holder and is very careful and skilled with guns, but he was in a rush to get to the airport Wednesday night and mistakenly believed the weapon was safely in his home, not in a bag he hadn’t used in a while, Johnson said. [Emphasis added.]
Johnson’s excuse does not seem to add up. Back in February 2000, Byrne, who has a Ph. D. from Stanford University, had boasted to Fortune Magazine that he has a photographic memory:
He has a nearly photographic memory, which he is fond of demonstrating with what he calls his memory trick: If he studies a deck of cards for a couple of minutes, he can recite them back, one by one, in either direction. He can even recite the same list again six months later. [Emphasis added.]
On December 12, 2007, Patrick Byrne appeared on Utah Now and showed off his photographic memory. He asked interviewer Doug Fabrizio, "What is your birthday?" Fabrizio replied, "July 18." Within seconds, Byrne correctly told Fabrizio the exact day of the week he was born on: Saturday. Byrne further bragged, "When I was seven, I could memorize cards." [See transcript.]
The gun, a Glock 23 .40-caliber pistol, was loaded with a dozen .40-caliber rounds in the magazine. It was found in the “front pocket” of his carry-on bag. The gun is 7.28 inches in length, 4.99 inches in height, and 1.18 inches in width. It weighs 31.06 ounces (almost 2 pounds) fully loaded. It’s difficult to believe that Patrick Byrne didn’t know there was a loaded gun in the front pocket of his carry-on bag.
|TSA Photo: Patrick Byrne's Gun and Ammmo seized at airport|
Patrick Byrne is a decade's long friend of Bo Gritz. The Anti-Defamation League lists Bo Gritz as a far-right extremist with “extensive connections to both white supremacists and anti-government groups and leaders.” In 1988, former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke was the presidential candidate for the Populist Party. Bo Gritz agreed to join the ticket as the Populist Party’s vice presidential candidate, but later dropped out to run for congress.
In April 2012, Patrick Byrne appeared as a guest of Earnest Hancock’s on his Freedom’s Phoenix radio show. Three years earlier, in August 2009, TPM reported that:
Ernest Hancock, the online radio host who staged an interview with an assault rifle-wielding associate at the Obama event in Arizona yesterday — and was himself armed with a 9 millimeter pistol — was a vocal supporter and friend of right-wing anti-government militia members who were convicted of conspiracy and weapons charges in the 90s. [Emphasis added.]
Patrick Byrne's violent tantrums
Before joining Overstock.com, Patrick Byrne's well connected father helped him get as job as the CEO of Fechheimer Brothers. Fortune Magazine reported that "He once challenged union leaders to a fistfight to resolve a labor dispute." The Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) sought to organize workers at a San Antonio plant. According to UNITE, "Until they began to organize, the company often did not provide toilet paper to its mostly Latina workers."
Patrick Byrne claims “photographic memory”
As I detailed above, in February 2000, Patrick Byrne bragged to Fortune Magazine that he has a “photographic memory.” In December 2007, he showed off his memory skills on Utah Now. On December 11, 2001, Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne appeared on Fox News claimed, “We're profitable.” On March 1, 2002, Business 2.0 Magazine reporter Owen Thomas asked, "Are you profitable? Patrick Byrne responded, "Yes, that's real GAAP profit, not Amazon-bullshit-accounting profit." On March 5, 2002, Overstock.com filed an S-1 report with the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with its planned initial public offering. It contradicted Byrne’s claim that his company was anywhere near “profitable.” The company lost money in each and every quarter since its inception.
Did Patrick Byrne lie to Fortune Magazine when he claimed to have a photographic memory? Did Patrick Byrne and his interviewer Doug Fabrizio stage a fake a demonstration of Byrne's memory skills on Utah Now? Or did Patrick Byrne lie to Fox News or Business 2.0 when he claimed that Overstock.com was profitable when it was actually losing money? Maybe Byrne is delusional?
Byrne’s bizarre behavior escalates
Over the next several years, Overstock.com continued to lose money. Patrick Byrne's behavior grew more erratic as he lashed out at critics with vicious verbal assaults and in one case made obscene and misogynistic comments to a female reporter.
In 2004, independent research firm Camelback Research (now known as Gradient Analytics) gave Overstock.com an earnings quality grade of "F" and mentioned that a member of its board of directors served on WorldCom's board while it was embroiled in an accounting scandal. Byrne wrote an analyst from Camelback:
...you make a living toadying to bully hedge funds. In this role, you insulted Mr. Macklin, a friend, a lifelong mentor and a decent and wonderful man. You deserve to be whipped, f--cked and driven from the land. Little punctilious submissive rejoinders such as your letter cannot change this or recalibrate our relationship on other terms. You drew first blood: own it. [Emphasis added.]
In Fortune Magazine, Bethany McLean reported that:
In the fall of 2004, I wrote a FORTUNE story titled "Is Overstock the Next Amazon?" After the piece came out, Byrne sent me an e-mail saying "Fair. And balanced." Two days later he wrote another e-mail: "I actually thought it was crap.... So, why exactly did you become a reporter? Giving Goldman traders blowjobs didn't work out?" [Emphasis added.]
Byrne’s paranoid fantasies
On August 11, 2005, Patrick Byrne went into a long rambling rant about a vast criminal conspiracy involving a mastermind who he identified as the “Sith Lord” who was out to destroy his company. It was widely mocked as a paranoid fantasy. [See Transcript.]
Joe Nocera reported in the New York Times that:
...it was an hourlong monologue during which Mr. Byrne laid out a vast, overarching conspiracy, made up of dozens of Wall Street players -- including the New York attorney general, Eliot Spitzer! -- all under the thumb of a mysterious puppet master, whom Mr. Byrne labeled the Sith Lord. He titled the conspiracy ''The Miscreants' Ball,'' an obvious reference to Michael Milken's old Predators' Ball.
Although Mr. Byrne told me that his Sith Lord speech ranked among ''the 10 proudest moments of my life,'' most people, including me, thought it was loony beyond belief. Roddy Boyd of The New York Post recalled hearing about it from someone on Wall Street. ''When he described it, I thought he was embellishing,'' Mr. Boyd said. But when he listened to the replay, ''my jaw dropped -- you cannot make up what occurred on that phone call.''
In addition to his conspiracy-mongering, Mr. Byrne talked about Stinger missiles, Wayne and Garth, a mysterious Spanish phone message, stuttering and cocaine. (''I'm not a coke head,'' he said, unprompted.) [Emphasis added.]
|NY Post Photo Mocking Byrne|
Never before in the history of Wall Street has a single conference call mentioned the following topics:
Miscreants, an unnamed Sith Lord he hopes the feds will bury under a prison, gay bath houses, whether he is gay, does cocaine, both or neither, and an obligatory, not that there is anything wrong with that, phone taps, phone lines misdirected to Mexico, arrested reporters, payoffs, conspiracies, crooks, egomaniacs, fools, paranoia, which newspapers are shills and for who, payoffs, money laundering, his Irish temper, false identities, threats, intimidation, and private investigators. All in 61 minutes.
Hedge fund manager Jeff Matthews told The Register that:
It was the most bizarre hour and change I have ever witnessed on the Street. [Emphasis added.]
In Fortune Magazine, Bethany McLean wrote:
Byrne's behavior has been so over the top that it would be tempting to dismiss it as a paranoid fantasy. Can you imagine the CEO of another company making a conference call like Byrne's without being sent packing by his directors? [Emphasis added.]
On August 29, 2005, Patrick Byrne, himself, did not dismiss concerns raised about his "whacko" behavior on Motley Fool:
I can COMPLETELY understand why some would look at my behavior and think it whacko: it is not as though the possibility never occurs to me before I do something weird.
Patrick Byrne's violent tantrum at the Utah State Legislature
In May 2007, Patrick Byrne went into a raging fit as the Utah legislature sought to repeal a certain law that was passed only a year earlier. Senator Bramble, the original sponsor of the legislation, now supported its repeal. New York Times columnist, Joe Nocera described Byrne's tirade:
Then, he became increasingly agitated, accusing Senator Bramble of betraying him. As his tone became more belligerent, and he began cursing, most of the others in the room, their jaws agape, simply listened to him rant. Several of them later told me they had never heard anything like it.
After the meeting, a confrontation broke out between Mr. Byrne and a securities industry lobbyist.
Chief Deputy Utah Attorney General Kirk Torgensen told me that "I saw him almost get into a fistfight... at the legislature." Byrne was seen cursing and screaming at legislators and lobbyists.
NAACP demands an apology from Byrne
In October 2007, Utah legislature was debating a referendum to provide vouchers for families sending kids to private schools. Apparently, Patrick Byrne believed that minority children who did not graduate from high school should be burned. During a debate, Patrick Byrne said:
Right now 40% of Utah minorities are not graduating high school. You may as well burn those kids. That's the end of their life in any signif... that's the end of their ability to achieve in this society. If they do not get a high school education, you just might as just throw the kids away. [Emphasis added.]
The NAACP demanded an apology, but Byrne refused.
When the state-wide voucher referendum was defeated, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that:
Voucher supporter Overstock.com chief executive Patrick Byrne - who bankrolled the voucher effort - called the referendum a "statewide IQ test" that Utahns failed. [Emphasis added.]
Many people in Utah were offended by Byrne's remarks. Chief Deputy Utah Attorney General Kirk Torgensen said:
He called us all a bunch of morons that didn’t care about kids….
Critics and their family members are stalked and threatened by Byrne’s operatives
In April 2007, I was doing research on Bagley’s activities and visited his blog multiple times over a couple of days. Bagley used an anonymous alias "panamapump" to post a message on a Yahoo stock chat board detailing every time I visited the blog. He threatened me saying, “On behalf of your family and in the interest of your own employability I ask you to please never visit ASM again. I'll email you new articles when they come out.” Later, as I uncovered accounting irregularities at Overstock.com, Bagley made good on his threat.
In February 2009, I identified certain violations of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) by Overstock.com that allowed it to fabricate a Q4 2008 profit rather than properly report a loss in that quarter. I urged the company to restate its financial reports to correct its improper accounting practices. CEO Patrick Byrne retaliated by personally attacking me on a stock market chat board, during various earnings calls, and in the press in an effort to discredit me. Instead of properly complying with GAAP, Overstock.com continued to overstate income in Q1, Q2, and Q3 2009.
Byrne's hired thug Bagley even injected himself into my divorce proceedings, contacting my former spouse, as well as using illegal pretexting tactics to "friend" my children and relatives on Facebook using a phony account. This was clear retaliation for my pointing out the company's accounting violations.
According to journalist and author Gary Weiss who uncovered the pretexting:
Bagley created "Larry Bergman" and an unknown number of phony Facebook accounts to con people into "friending" him. That way he could circumvent Facebook security, violating their rules and, well, Lord knows how many laws he broke in this pretexting scheme.
Attorney and Big Picture blogger (over 1.5 million monthly readers) Barry Rithholtz called Judd Bagley a "possible pedarast" after learning that he and his family members were pretexted. Eventually, Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) booted Bagley for violating its rules. It deleted both his false "Larry Bergman" profile and his personal profile.
Judd Bagley claimed that Overstock's internet pretexting scheme was designed to unveil connections between hedge funds and the journalists who write about them. However, Bagley targeted only journalists and bloggers (and their friends and family members thereof) who had written about Overstock. Altogether he compiled a database containing personal information on over 7,400 people.
In September 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission started an investigation of Overstock.com’s accounting practices. In March 2010, Overstock.com finally admitted that it violated GAAP and restated its financial reports to correct its accounting violations, as I had recommended over a year earlier.
It was the third time since 2006 that Overstock.com had to restate its financial reports to correct violations of accounting rules. Every single financial report issued by Overstock.com from 1998 to 2009 was initially wrong and had to be corrected up to three times.
It will be interesting to see whether Patrick Byrne receives equal justice in the Utah courts, or is let off in deference to his wealth and heavy campaign contributions to the Utah Republican Party.
Sam E. Antar
I am a convicted felon and a former CPA. As the criminal CFO of Crazy Eddie, I helped my cousin Eddie Antar and other members of his family mastermind one of the largest securities frauds uncovered during the 1980's. I committed my crimes in cold-blood for fun and profit, and simply because I could. If it weren't for the heroic efforts of the FBI, SEC, Postal Inspector's Office, US Attorney's Office, and class action plaintiff's lawyers who investigated, prosecuted, and sued me, I would still be the criminal CFO of Crazy Eddie today.
There is a saying, "It takes one to know one." Today, I work very closely with the FBI, IRS, SEC, Justice Department, and other federal and state law enforcement agencies in training them to identify and catch white-collar criminals. Often, I refer cases to them as an independent whistleblower. I teach white-collar crime classes for various government entities, professional organizations, businesses, and colleges and universities. More recently, I've helped the AICPA Fraud Task Force develop better methods for detecting fraud. I do not want or seek forgiveness for my vicious crimes from my victims. My past sins are unforgivable.
I do not own any Overstock.com securities long or short.